Jet-lagged in Jersey

my hotel room

After not getting any sleep in the past 48 hours due to preparations for the trip and only getting 30-minute naps during the 15-hour flight from Hong Kong to New York, I thought that I’d be able to get a decent amount of sleep.

I hit the bed around 11 last night and got woken up at 1:00 AM. I don’t think I’d be able to manage to sleep again, but I’ll try to take a nap before I leave for work at 7 or so.

From the apartment to HKIA

kaye and fulton The company driver picked me up from the apartment at 3:00 AM. We proceeded to the office to fetch Fulton, a teammate who’s headed for London. We met Mary at the airport, and then boarded the same flight bound for Hong Kong. The Cathay Pacific plane took off at 6.30 AM and touched down at the smoggiest place I know, that is Hong Kong International Airport (or the whole of Hong Kong/Southern China, for that matter) at 8.30 AM.

There was a 20-minute delay in our flight from Manila due to paper work.

kaye and mary HKIA is probably one of the best airports in the world. It’s super huge, super modern and somehow super efficient. Because of its enormous size, it took Mary and I about 30 minutes to get from gate 42 to gate 2. We walked for about 20 minutes and hopped into a train that would take us to the other side of the airport.

HKIA to JFK

We left HKIA at 10.30 for JFK aboard Cathay Pacific Airbus-340 600. Except for the cramped space, the airline provided excellent service. Food and booze was nearly overflowing, unlike in other airlines where only the passengers of business class and up could have wine on-demand.

My reservation ticket indicated that I only had one meal during the 15-hour flight. However, when we were already on board, the staff immediately served us lunch. Passengers could choose from pork, chicken, seafood, and pasta. I opted for the seafood meal dipped in sechuan sauce with some random veggies. I know that airline food are abysmal, but the one served in Cathay was not bad at all.

The crew then gave a variety of choices for drinks–soda, juices, tea, coffee, and wine. At first I thought that the wine was reserved for first-class passengers only. However, after serving food and drinks, the flight attendants made another round of the cabin to offer white and red wines. This time, I had a glass. :)

We had two meals and one snacks during the long flight. In between, you could ask the crew to give you noodles (they serve our very own Nissin Cup Noodles), nuts, energy bars, biscuits, and packed fruits. Passengers could also get any of the drinks I mentioned above. You could ask for extra servings of butter, buns, and whatever you may fancy from the food trays, except for the main course.

I had some scary moments aboard the aircraft due to turbulence. We hit major rough air packets about three times. These were so bad that the captain had to order the cabin crew to take their seats and everyone to fasten their seatbelts.

Note to self next time–take the aisle seat so you could easily stand when you’re cramping or go to the restroom when you have to without bothering your seatmate. By hour ten, my whole body was aching. There was nothing much to do except watch videos, read or catch some sleep.

The captain announced our approach to JFK around 30 minutes before touching down.

At JFK

As expected, we had to line up for Immigration clearance at JFK. We fell in line for about 45 minutes. It was scary because this was the last clearing house before one could finally enter the US. Fortunately, I guess, the guy who interviewed me was Chinese. He was really friendly and spoke Chinese with the Chinese family ahead of me.

For good or bad, because he didn’t speak English that well, all he could do was act smug and ask why I was visiting the US (training, meetings), what trainings I would be taking (well, the client’s business) and how long I was supposed to be here (about a month). He stamped “admitted” and wrote “Feb 17, 2008″ on my I-94 card. Yey!

“Bagong Salta” goes to New York

Good Lord, it was almost insulting when one of the guards asked, “Does she speak English?” when he noticed I wasn’t pushing my trolley properly. I realized later that I had to push the handle to allow the wheels to roll. Mary said yes and explained that we had had a long day.

Lokong pulis na yun, baka di nya alam na mas maayos pa ang grammar ko sa kanya. But anyway…

I was really tired, dazed and starving by the time we reached JFK and I still marvel at how I was able to give the correct answers to the Asian immigration officer. At gate 7’s lobby, there were chauffeurs waiting for their passengers. Now, my real “immersion” hit a tough spot: how to get out of JFK and reach my hotel without blowing an enormous amount of money or get ripped off by a cab driver.

Thank God I asked for help from Keng, heaven’s answer to a girl who’s going to the center of the universe for the first time. He was already on the train when I called him. What a relief it was when he appeared on my view at the airport, I just gave him the best hug I could. (Naks! Parang movie scene!). After a little introductory chit-chat with him, Mary went ahead to her sister’s apartment in north of Manhattan.

First taste of the cold–shocking cold–weather

After sharing an enormous Subway sandwich with Keng at the airport, we crossed the street to the air train. As we were crossing the street, I had my first taste of shockingly cold New York weather. I had put on my white thermal jacket before going out, still I wasn’t prepared for how freezing it REALLY was. Halfway through crossing the street, I was already shivering.

I thought my lungs would freeze when I gasped for air as the shock hit me.

Taking the subway

Keng decided to kick-start my NYC immersion with the public transportation system. Whoever thought of the air train should be awarded with 10 thousand good karmas. Keng deserves the same, but we’ll get to that later.

We boarded the Jamaica air train and got off at–I assume–Jamaica in Queens (??). A friendly black guy realized while we were waiting for the train that we would have a hard time pulling around my luggage, so he informed us that we could take the trolley and leave it at the last station. When we reached the last stop, there really was a trolley station.

I bought my first card worth $20. It has $4 extra credit. We took the E-train that would take us to 42nd street in Manhattan where we could get into a Port Authority Bus that would take us to Secaucus, New Jersey where the hotel was located.

The multi-level 42nd street station was enormous by any measure. Everybody was on a rush (on a Sunday afternoon!), but people were mostly nice and ready to hold doors for you or answer your questions, if you seemed to be lost or unsure of what train or bus to take.

We bought a ticket for Bus 129. Unfortunately, we took the wrong bus and so we missed the stop by miles off. We called the hotel, but the person manning the desk wasn’t of so much help. We had no choice but to take a cab.

I was already feeling miserable for ourselves, and sorry to Keng because the whole picking up at the airport thing was no small feat. Cold, tired, hungry and very very lost in Nowhereland, New Jersey, we waited for a cab. Thankfully, we were spotted by this goodhearted taxi driver who was supposed to pick up a passenger, but realized just how miserable we looked in the freezing cold and windy night.

He stopped his Lincoln cab and helped us with the luggage. Man–a Lincoln taxi! In the Philippines, only millionnaire businessmen could own (or ride in) a Lincoln! I felt like a million already, LOL!

On the way to the hotel, he told us what bus to take next time (320) and where we could flag it (in front of the hotel). Finally, we got to the hotel, which was right behind Loewe’s Theatre. I forgot the name of the place where the Loewe’s is situated with restaurants, some familiar food joints (BK, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chili’s), and a shop.

The slightly harrassed pretty black lady manning the desk asked for my name and some form of identification. I gave my company ID first, but she preferred my passport. Next, she asked for my AMEX. After verifying my identity and making sure that the AMEX was working, she charged a full week’s worth of stay on the card and gave some basic info about the hotel. I asked her to add the one-time payment of $4.99 for wi-fi connection.

Because my reservation slip had indicated a 3-month stay here, she decided to wave off my internet fees. Goodie! Taking the two key cards, my wifi-password and my room’s extension number, I went to the room with Keng.

It was such a relief when Keng and I entered the room. In fairness, the studio suite is very decent–it has a small kitchen, dinner and office table in one, computer chairs, large maroon couch, a ginormous TV, a comfortable queen-size bed and fast wi-fi, what else can I ask for?

Well, apparently, the hot shower wasn’t working when I tried it last night. I’ve got to call the front desk for help. Either it isn’t working or I’m just an idiot for not knowing how to use the shower knobs. But try as I could, there was no way I could force hot water out of the nozzle.

Warming up at the hotel and Keng treats Kaye to dinner

hotel room kitchenette

As I was unpacking the clothes that I’d be wearing for the next four work days, Keng brewed coffee for us. As we settled down, I got into full-on ADD-induced multitasking mode: unpacking, watching TV, drinking coffee, setting up my wireless connection and e-mailing my colleagues in Manila and NYC.

Keng and I, being good friends from the good ol’ days of UP, talked about our careers, plans for the future and just-concluded love lives. It was fun talking to him. He’s sweet as ever, funny as hell, unbelievably intelligent and ever-ready for bastus jokes. How I wish that Tina and Schiera were with us last night to complete the circle of green minded friends. He texted Tina last night on the way to NJ, but she didn’t reply.

After about an hour, we got hungry and decided to brave the cold night to look for a restaurant nearby. Fortunately, a restaurant row was about a stone’s throw away, right in front of Loewe’s Theatre. Keng treated me to Chili’s where we had chicken fillet with veggie sticks and dips, two barbeque ribs with an enormous serving of fries, and lemon water. The tab was $27, but with taxes and tips, the bill reached $30 for both of us. I guess it’s a lot here already, but that’s freakin’ Chili’s.

The only Chili’s one could find in Makati is at Greenbelt 1 and you’d have to pay through the nose for a plate.

The serving size was good for two. That or maybe because I’m tiny myself and so used to tiny servings. But in any case, I couldn’t finish any of the plates that we ordered. I guess I owe Keng a dinner…I’ll do that when I visit him after the Thanksgiving weekend. Sshhh…

We returned to the hotel after looking for the 320 bus stop. He had let me go ahead to my room so he could wait for his bus. Unfortunately, the driver of the 9:30 bus didn’t stop for Keng, so my friend knocked on my door just about 10 minutes after I left him at the bus stop. He stayed for another hour waiting for the next bus to arrive.

Jet lag kicks in

I hit the bed at 10.30 after asking for help with activating my cell’s roaming through e-mail. By 1:00 AM, I woke up and couldn’t go to sleep anymore no matter how I tried. So what’s a chick gonna do when she’s jet lagged?

Why, blog, of course!

(NOTE: I included date and time stamps on the photos to show just how early in the morning I’m awake and blogging. Please excuse whatever grammatical errors you might have found–there are many–since my brain is still on a fritz.)

I will be in NYC until late December

Manhattan, NYCJust taking time out to do some last-minute blogging before I leave for the airport. I’m flying to NYC early in the morning.

All that packing’s been a b*tch and I still don’t know if my bag is still within the allowed weight limit. Hotel issue semi-resolved, all the necessary papers readied, two thermals, work clothes and a pair of boots packed, I think I’m ready for the month-long trip. I still have to get a pair of winter boots becauseI don’t think that the one I’ve got can really protect my feet against the city’s icy weather.

No badminton for at least a month. Everything should have been prepared earlier so that I could still have attend tonight’s games. I love Saturday evenings because of badminton and…something else, that I end up counting how many more nights should pass before 6.30 or 7.30 PM of Saturday rolls around again.

First NYC trip. First Thanksgiving. First winter. And I hope that there won’t be any hassles anymore.

Will work for travel

The past four days have been unbelievably hectic, marked by unexpected requests for interviews and checking of papers. As far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to travel, and the thirst to fly out became more intense this year that I made a few big decisions on the possibility of travel alone. I just didn’t expect that the chance would come around so soon. I say “chance” since the plan is just about 99% sure. I was supposed to have filed my Visa application to the UK embassy last Tuesday morning, but I had to change my plans ASAP and instead file a Visa application to the US embassy.

As it was my first time to do so, it was probably one of the scariest moments of my life since if I’d have been denied, then it would be absolutely difficult for me to get other Visas, whether for the same country or another. I’m glad that my paper was approved, so I just have to wait for up to three working days to receive my Visa by courier, pack up things and necessary papers, make sure that I’ll have enough money for the trip (that is, until my daily allowance start coming in), badger our very lovely and helpful travel assistants about hotel room reservation, get my plane tickets, spend quality time with the boyfriend since we wouldn’t be seeing each other for a month, and then fly off to NYC. Goodness, it’s my first time to set foot on US soil, and of all places to visit for the firs time, it would be New York. And I will get a training from a top-notch financial institution. It can’t get any better than that. I just hope that I’ll be up for the job. *Crossing fingers*

I was already kind of psyched up for a UK trip when I received the news that I would be sent there for the training. Then things changed, so another colleague would be slated there for six months. Lucky dude. Oh well, New York is New York. Who the heck am I to complain? There’d be lots of places to see and stuff to do outside office hours. I used to imagine that just setting foot on any city in the US would be okay with me, but hey, it’s NYC…like, it’s the center of the known universe. I’m so excited.

I’m also very excited to lead a documentation project on my return. I’m very thankful for this chance and I can safely say that I have made the right decision to sign up with my current employer at the right moment. Not all technical writers get to have this chance. I’m just thankful, I’m excited, I’m happy, I’m in-love. That’s the best reason to return to the Philippines. I can’t wait to celebrate his birthday in December.

Start spreading the news

Alas, instead of going to the UK, I’ll be flying out to NYC for my training. I’m very excited about the trip, but at the same time I’m a little scared since I have never been to the States. And of all places, it’s NY Cthat I’m going to on my first visit. I feel like a child who’s being thrown into the water for her first swimming lesson.

Oh well, it would have felt just the same if I’d been assigned to the UK, which is another country that I haven’t visited yet and a place which I still wish to see. My mind was all set for London and I was already prepping myself up for what I’d be doing there when I’m not at the client’s offices–go to a gallery, watch a play, ride the double-decker bus or the Underground, ride the London Eye, watch the changing of the guards in front of Buckingham Palace. For all its charm, London *does* sound more exciting than NYC. Still, NY is NY and a US trip is a US trip.

Anyway, I should have already visited the UK embassy for my visa application last Tuesday. But since plans changed all of a sudden, I had to make another arrangement. And so I woke up at 4:30 this morning–the earliest time I woke up in bloody ages!

Good thing, our PSAs scheduled the company van to take me to the US Embassy at 5:30. Before 6:00 AM, I was already lining up in front of the embassy.

I submitted my forms, new passport and all the necessary attachments to the person in charge of checking all application papers. After going over my papers, she gave me a number which served as a ticket for finger print scanning. The wait for the scanning took the better of two hours, and I was glad I brought a book to keep me from getting bored.

When my number was called, I had my finger prints scanned and then promptly fell in line for the interview, the scariest part of the whole visa application process. A local worker assigned me to the farthest window from the door. The embassy officer at the booth was a stern-looking white guy who must be around 50. I got to the line just as he was turning down the application–probably for a tourist visa–of an old lady who’s accompanied by someone who must be her daughter. It was really sad and at the same time scary to witness the whole scene. Having one’s visa application turned down after going through all the hassles of preparing your papers which are not easy to get in the first place, being at the embassy as early as 6:00 AM and queuing up for 2 hours is bad enough. To add injury to the insult, the entire waiting room heard the “Denied” result.

The immigration officer explained to the old lady that she did not present sufficient evidence that she would return to the Philippines after her scheduled trip. Moreover, her closest relatives are in the US, which meant that they might petition her to stay as an immigrant in the States instead. I don’t know how it all works, but sadly, the presence of close relatives in the States (and declaring them in the application form) did not work for her. Maybe it would have been better had she applied for an immigrant visa.

The next guy at the booth was a software developer from Accenture who’s attending a “meeting”. The moment that he mentioned his company’s name, it was about 99.99% sure that he would get approved. The immigration officer said, “Oh, Accenture. Yes.” The developer dude was asked to explain briefly why he had to go there aside from the declared meeting. He explained the nature of his job and that he was really a developer, having a CompSci degree from UP. It took him about just a minute to get his application approved. When he left the booth, the guy looked as if Christmas arrived early.

Then it was my turn. As I was handing my application papers to the officer, he greeted me, “How are you?” I answered, “I’m good! How are you?” with the best sunshiny smile I could muster in spite of the fact that I was still groggy, hungry, needing to visit the bathroom and half-shaking from nerves. “I am fine, thank you” he answered. He then asked, “So your name is _____?” I confirmed it and explained that it’s supposed to be pronounced _______, but since I accomplished the form online, I used N instead of the special character. He said, “OK. That makes sense”.

He then proceeded to ask what I was planning to do in the States. I was straight to the point: “I am going there for training with _______”.

The embassy officer then asked, “What do you do at Headstrong?” I answered, “I’m a Technical Writer.” And thank god for Jocy who attached my employment certificate and the document that detailed the nature of my visit because he had to verify what I told him by checking the attachments. The dude then said, “Oh. You’re new at Headstrong.” I simply said yes. “What did you do previously?” he followed up.

I said, “I was also a Technical Writer at TW. I graduated with a journalism degree and I’m now working as a technical writer.” The dude suddently didn’t look convinced. When I mentioned that I did not have a strong financial background that was why I had to train, his face brightened up a little.

It was only then that he understood why I had to be there so he added, “Oh. You have to learn all the banking terms?” I said, “Yes!” while nodding vigorously. A green light suddenly lighted up in my mind. “You’re going to New York. Have you been there?” he asked. I said, “No” while still smiling.

I knew right a way that he was approving my application when he took the yellow slip from my application package and set the rest of my papers with those that were also approved for visa processing.

And as he was returning the yellow slip to me, he said, “Well, Karla, you are on your way. We will send your visa to you in a few days.” I thanked him a little too profusely for the good news, but who cares? He bid me a good day and I bid him the same. I took the yellow slip to register with the courier service that would deliver my Visa in two to three working days.

Good Lord, waking up so early and losing sleep over the papers and what-not was well worth it. I guess sometimes it’s just a matter of luck, sometimes of honesty and in some occasion just being confident, knowing that you’re getting a Visa for the reason that you actually stated in your papers. Yes, I’m on my way to NYC and I can’t wait. I’m very excited! Just getting assigned by the company to this project and getting the assignment approved by the client could not be attributed to my own efforts alone. I’m totally lucky!

I remember what Oprah once said to Josh Groban when the latter guested in an episode: “Luck is being prepared when opportunity arrives. If you have not been prepared, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity and you wouldn’t have been lucky.”

Now, all I have to worry about are the preparations for my travel–plane tickets (I’m booked for an October 8 departure); traveler’s checks while applying for a US bank account where the company would send my per diem; company AMEX card for hotel, transpo and winter clothing payments; my personal stuff. Jeez, I haven’t even bought a traveling bag. I was about to buy one but held back; I told myself that I’d get one only when I already have my Visa. That was three weeks ago.

Now what I have to prepare for as well is another interview with the homeland immigration officer at the airport in St. Paul, Minnesota. The last thing that I’d like to happen is to reach NYC and be sent back home because the airport dudes there aren’t convinced that I’d be entering the States for training. Jeez, for the short stay in the States, work would be the last thing on my mind (training is first, sight-seeing is second…hehe!).

So yeah, New York or bust. Start spreading the news…I wanna be a part of it, New York, New Yooorrkkk!!!

PS: During last Saturday’s badminton games, Cha asked if I was “mag-aabroad”. I didn’t deny it, but I said that I was still only applying for Visa and that nothing was final yet. I didn’t know who told her since it had been weeks since I last attended a badminton game. Must be the people from HS.

Boracay Pics

Finally, the photos of our Bora trip have arrived:

boracay regency cafe cristina buffet breakfast
Breakfast buffet. First of the many attempts by Regency to fatten us up.

Lunch at Regency's food plaza
Lunch at Regency’s food plaza

Boracay main road
Beachwear hehe…

swimming pool
Boracay Regency’s pool

bacon waffles at zuzuni
My favorite – bacon waffles at Zuzuni

dog
Vincent

Boracay Station 2
Station 2

lamps and henna
Buy lamps or get a henna tattoo by the main path.